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The Great Secretarial Pantsuit Coup

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Mary Kay Carter recalls normalizing women's pantsuits in the workplace.

Women always dressed in dresses, nylons, heels, jewelry to go to work. And the pantsuit became a fashion statement that…We liked… a group of us decided at work that we would all get pantsuits… They were a good fabric, well-fitted, like a suit…And one day… the ladies in the office all decided they were going to wear their pantsuits to work and see what happened.

We were all secretaries…And we thought… ‘What's the worst that could happen? They could send us all home to change clothes?’

And we kind of set the trend for the rest of the people in the building. They all started wearing pantsuits after that, and after that, it just kept growing and growing and it just became acceptable. - Mary Kay Carter

March is Women's History Month. We are celebrating women and girls who've made and empowered positive change in the world. In this Area Voices, Mary Kay Carter remembers the shift from dresses to pantsuits in the South Dakota Department of Agriculture.

I made my first one… it was a blue…a knit fabric… it had long sleeves and it was warm. And in the winter, it made sense. You had to walk a long way to your car and your trippy, dippy heels and your bare legs! – Mary Kay Carter

If you have a story of progress or change that has empowered the women in your life, Let us know about it. Email comments@kaxe.org or text us 218-326-1234

We received text from one listener!
I enjoyed and related to Katie's mother talking about pantsuits. I am younger than she but I remember sewing pantsuits....out of polyester fabric. In 1984 I worked, briefly, at a cheese factory in Big Stone City, SD. We were allowed to wear pants. I sewed a jumpsuit....wore it to work and was called in to the manager's office. I was told I could not wear jumpsuits to work. I asked what the difference was if I tucked a shirt into pants or wore a jumpsuit. Not a valid argument to the office manager. I quit this job fairly quickly. Probably just before I would have been canned. I was just a troublemaker! (And kinda still am)🙂 Thanks for you good work!

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Katie Carter started at Northern Community Radio in 2008 as Managing Editor of the station's grant-funded, online news experiment Northern Community Internet. Since 2016, she's produced Area Voices showcasing the arts, culture, and history stories of northern Minnesota. She's our local host of NPR's All Things Considered and CBC's As It Happens every weekday from 4-7pm.
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